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06 December 2016

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Enjoyed your tale of 1960s Gogodala hunting in their swampy Aramia River.

In 1970 Alan Judkins the General Manager of Pasuwe Ltd. Attempted to prepare me for living there after I had almost ten years of island living: “Arthur it is very different to New Ireland.” He sure was right about that.

The most enduring memory surely must be the mosquitoes. I have never experienced such hordes anywhere else in PNG. Even during the day if my wife was doing the laundry underneath our misso home she was plagued by them.

Every expat home on Kawito station had double doors at both the front and back entrances in an attempt to try and stop too many of them entering with you. Don’t know if that is why many of my local staff had not known their grandparents who may have died from repeated bouts of malaria.

Life on the Dibili (as Gogodala call their Aramia) seemed calm and there were many beautiful days. But then came the first of the Gogo or monsoonal storms that could roar in very rapidly with gale force winds and lashings of tropical rain.

I got caught on the river in one on my way home from Balimo. The driver of our small river truck saw it coming and just turned the boat into the heavy creepers floating all along the edges of the river. We were absolutely soaked by the time it passed over us.

Before continuing on home my wife started hauling in long tentacles of the floating weeds which had longish triangular leaves.

“What you doing missus?” asked my driver.

“Kankong, is great to eat,” she replied.

“Oh please no missus. It is very poisonous. Don’t eat it!”

“We eat it all the time in New Ireland,” she exclaimed and carried on harvesting the green crop.

Veggies in the Gogodala were scarce then so anything to supplement the fortnightly supply we got from Dauli Teachers College gardens in the Southern Highlands were most welcome.

Stories spread quickly on the river so that by the weekend we had a request from the misso teachers of Awaba High asking if they could visit Mrs. Williams and learn how to cook the plant.

So on Saturday a gang of ladies arrived at our home and my wife was able to advise them how best to prepare the vegetable. Wonder if she started a trend and made for healthier eating on the river. Perhaps the locals don’t call it Kankong, as we knew it, but Kavieng kumu after her.

I often wondered why it was not thought edible by the inhabitants of the river. One thought was it may have been an introduced weed and so not traditionally accepted fare.

Or was it because every afternoon the boarding kids of Awaba High would ‘bathe’ in the river near the school. While washing it was a much better place to defecate than the often smelly school toilets and so the polluted slow moving river carried it downstream to the distant Fly River delta. There was no gravel, pebble or stones anywhere in the river to produce a purifying process.

Incidentally the school septic toilets had to be regularly emptied because they would be clogged with the husks of the brown rice which the environmentally friendly missos insisted on me supplying in preference to less healthy white rice. They also demanded brown flour and preferred brown sugar too.

As Bob found, the Gogodala love hunting to find a healthy supplement for their mainly sago diet. Even in the swamps my company found a demand for selling cartridges, boots even long trousers despite the heat and humidity.

I was told it was to prevent snake bites while on the hunt. The area is notorious for the deadly Papuan black, one of which was seen chasing one of my young daughters playing on the mown grass at the side of the Kawito airstrip.

Spent some happy years in the area.

I was in Balimo a couple of years ago Bob. I had trouble working out where the old station was. The airstrip hasn't changed much but there is a bitumen road leading out to it.

The lagoon is unchanged but the Aramia is now invaded by exotic species like tilapia that are having an impact on the native fish. The barramundi seem to be holding their own though. There are also birds around that no one has seen before. You have to go way upstream to find any pukpuks. Plenty of rubber plantations and Warren's boat comes in buying the latex regularly. A rice growing project fizzled but there are still patches around. Lots of new Chinese running the trade stores upriver.

To stay quiet, dry and hidden on a single two-man dug out canoe so that a shoot-man could do his stuff requires skill, balance and belief dear Taubada ! Lovely story.

Good story again, Bob. Further upstream along the Fly River is Aiambak logging camp (which I think is closed now).

During the El Nino drought of 1987-88 I remember we had a great time hunting deer that were roaming the plains in numbers. Western Province is truly a place of every animal.

Lovely story, Taubada ADO ! :)

A great story from a gentleman and scholar, Bob Cleland.

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